Aging can be liberating, the crowning of a lifetime, a fruition of a life fully lived. We can finally live the way we want to live. But aging can also bring many changes at a time when we are least able to adapt to change. Hospitals, nursing homes, healthcare, Medicaid, falls, broken hips, wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. Hospice, living wills, assisted care, night time driving, independence and salesmen. The deaths of lifelong friends, the inability to go to a funeral for a last good-bye. Lots of time on your hands to reminisce, a worsening loss of memory. Aging can bring deep sadness, grief, frustration and despair not only to the aging person, but to their family.
What's it like to lose your partner, friends, job, brothers and sisters, your sight, teeth, appetite, sense of taste, your legs? In trying to cope with growing old, what helps? What wisdom and insight can all of us gain from this process?
In some ways, prejudice against the aged is more ingrained and unexamined than racism, sexism, and homophobia. What can we do to help make the last years of life the best years of life? How can we transform institutions for elderly care from impersonal warehouses to homes away from home?
It has been estimated that more people in the United States are caregivers to the elderly than to small children. The care itself can be an even greater commitment of time, effort, and sacrifice. To want to do more, do better, spend more time is the vexation of most support givers to an elderly family member. Our fast changing culture has forever changed how our aging loved one's live and die. Can people now die with dignity, serenity, and grace? What can a family do?
Some of the most compassionate counselors work with aging people. The grief, regrets, and losses that aging people experience sometimes need a helping hand. So if you want help for an aging loved one, how do you get it? What do you do? A good start is with yourself. Have you asked them yourself what its like to be them? Can you explore with them some of their scary thoughts, and their personal pain?
By exploring a little yourself, you can make a better decision about how to help. Most of the time, help begins with friends and family, through someone they can talk and share with, or by providing a plant, a pet, a new hobby. A counselor can also be a good start or second step. A counselor who specializes in working with aging people are a great resource for gaining a better understanding, they can be a resource for learning how to help the ones we love.
One thing we can all be sure of is: if we're alive, we will age. In a society that celebrates youth as ours does, it is often hard to face the reality of aging.
People in the US spend billions of dollars on beauty products believing if we look young, we will feel young, and feeling young is good. We don’t deal with death very well in our culture. The realities of aging remind us of our mortality, and so many of us do all we can do to avoid facing that aging.
Refusal to accept the natural process of birth, growth, maturity, physical decline, and death can, in of itself, cause great distress for the elderly. Elderly people can also experience periods of depression, anxiety, and grief which can be natural consequences of living in an aging body, but there are also unique ways in which these common maladies manifest themselves in the elderly. Depression in the elderly often masquerades as dementia, the same primary symptom of Alzheimer’s. It is not uncommon for memory to fail as we age; by itself it is not cause for concern.
Alzheimer’s Disease: While not very common, is of great concern because the loss of control over our minds and bodies can be tremendously fearful. The primary feature is dementia, which plays into our fear of, "I'm losing my mind!" It also touches off our issues regarding being independent versus dependent on others. Unfortunately, our fear of Alzheimer’s causes us to confuse some common symptoms of easily remedied problems with those of the more serious illness.
Depression is far more common than Alzheimer’s. 13% of the elderly community (30% in medical settings), are depressed. Depression in the aging can develop for a multitude of reasons, including failing health, as part of grieving the loss loved ones, inactivity, and fear of pain or death. Older people find themselves in environments where it's hard to keep busy, or where little is expected of them. This inactivity can cause an onset of depression.
It’s important to pay attention to what's going on in our bodies, and be open in pursuing assistance from medical or mental health professionals. We can live a good life, our whole life, if we can face the changes in our bodies, adjust to new lifestyles, accommodate our diet, support our physical needs, and face our mortality, utilizing our personal spiritual beliefs to help contend with the inevitable.